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Saturday, 7 February 2009

Harry Nicolaides' pardon may be forthcoming, according to his brother Forde. The poor man, who Sharon Bakar at Malaysia's Bibliobibuli blog wrote about on 20 January, is in a terrible state. Sleeping in a foot-wide area on the floor, walking in cat vomit and fish bones during the day, and watching his back when he's not being handed manuscripts by other inmates, Nicolaides deserves our pity.

Sharon says that the Australian consulate had done nothing for him. For sure I've heard little word about the case, which began on 31 August when the author was levaing Thailand by aeroplane. I've heard nothing from officials, including the Greens. It's appalling and it's time it stopped.

Seven copies of the book were sold, Nicolaides, who lives in the northern Thai town of Chiang Rai, tells us. He also tells us that he's becoming resigned to living in a place where deadly contagious diseases are commonplace. He says "other foreigners" tell him that "this, too, shall pass". It's a chilling quote in today's The Sydney Morning Herald, which placed a picture of Harry, finally, on its front page (click on pic to enlarge).

On 4 February 2009, the same paper published a story that told us "On Monday, the Bring Harry Home website (www.bringharryhome.com) was launched to raise the profile of the case." Politicians currently blabbing about the economic stimulus package should get their fingers out of their noses and start making phone calls. Surely, Mr Rudd, a call from you to Thailand's new president could make some sort of difference.

A 12 November AAP story tells us that "The federal government says it has made representations to the Thai authorities on behalf of an Australian man charged with criticising the country's royal family."

A video Sharon points to about Thai politicians misusing the same law that caused Harry to be incarcerated for alternative reasons has been removed by YouTube "due to terms of use violation". The Facebook site for Harry had, as of today, over 3100 members. Sharon notes that the passage in the book about the relations of the royal family was "just 103 words long". That's the length of a short news story.

The lese majeste law has been invoked, thinks the BBC, because the police and army are trying to "suppress what they fear is a rising tide of anti-monarchy sentiment". The king, Bumiphol Adulyadej, is frequently involved in politics. Recent unrest in Thailand caused a group of anti-Thakshin protesters to squat in the country's main airport. The government collapsed as a result.

But this is ridiculous. A 41 year old Australian writer who has lived in Thailand, peacefully, for years, has been charged with a medieval law in a medieval manner and is kept in medieval conditions for a self published (2005) novel. The ABC broke the story on 12 November in its 7.30 Report feature program.

Nicolaides is an unlikely criminal. He "taught English, wrote columns about expat life for an online magazine" (The Age, 22 November) and wrote books. "When he published Verisimilitude three years ago, Nicolaides took the precaution of sending his book to the National Library, the Thai Ministry of Culture, the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Bureau of the Royal Household to check that its contents were acceptable. He received no response." The book was accepted in the National Library of Thailand.

Thai authorities issued a warrant for Nicolaides' arrest on March 17 2008. "The authorities are very concerned to keep the royal family out of politics, and to clamp down on any discussion which might reflect negatively on the royal family. There's a strong campaign to pursue lese majeste charges," says Dr Andrew Walker, an anthropologist at ANU's Asia-Pacific program.

Forde Nicolaides says the book "is in no way about the monarchy" (New Zealand Herald, 24 November). Nicholas Pearson in The Australian (1 December) says that "arrests for lese majeste are seen by the ruling elite as a means of harnessing populist support". "King Bhumibol Adulyadej himself has stated publicly that use of the charge lowers the status of the throne."

Nicolaides is in prison because of the way "in which he referred to the way an unamed Crown Prince treated one of his mistresses" (Canada NewsWire, 5 December). The Australian (6 December) suggests that, with the king ailing in his old age, Crown Prince Maha is enjoying "growing influence" and is thus responsible for Harry's detention. "Some have taken this unflattering depiction as a comment on Prince [Maha] Vajiralongkom," writes The Age (19 December).

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